After listening to Episode 55 of the Real Life Survival Guide I started to think about entrepreneurship, its challenges and its perks. During the episode, the guest editors all talked about how they had given up working for “the man” and decided to do their own thing. (Except of course for Duo, who is; The Man.) In this economy, many people are giving up on the once stable corporate world and choosing to throw their hat into the business ring for themselves. I too once tried my hand at being my own boss. It was smalltime but I liked it. It was many years ago and for a short time I felt like I could do no wrong. I was powerful, I had cash, I had elite status in my peer group and I had a cool bicycle. When I was eleven years old, I was a candy dealer.
In sixth grade my friend Billy and I decided to go into business together. Our goal was to corner the candy market at Saint Anthony of Padua, our elementary school. We knew we had a captive market and as far as we knew, no competition. Our poor classmates were dying to get their hungry little mitts on some sugar and we were gonna make sure they had it. We started off small. We chipped in our paltry amount of money and bought some cheap proven favorites; Bazooka Joe gum, fireballs, pixie sticks, Smarties and some of those wax bottles filled with the mystery colored liquid. We divided the candy evenly and put the contraband inside our brown lunch bags. Bringing the candy into school was no picnic; there were snitches, rats and informers everywhere. We had to be stealthy because it was well known that the Nuns at Saint Anthony’s did not approve of chewing gum or candy in general. Many times our teacher, Sister Grace told us, “He who hath sugar in his pockets, hath also evil in his heart!” But that didn’t dissuade us. We were gonna roll the dice and sell candy right under the noses of the nuns and if everything went right, we’d be rolling in dough.
After getting to school we played it cool. We didn’t let on that we had any candy on us until lunch time. Always the ladies man, Bill took a walk to where the girls were sitting and spread the word about the candy while I remained with the guys and quietly preached a greedy gospel of confectionary desire. I pulled the wrinkled brown bag out from inside my desk, opened it and offered my friends to take a look inside. “Look what I got boys” I whispered, “Bazooka Joe, Smarties, Pixie sticks, fire balls…” One of my over eager classmates made a grab for it but I snatched the bag away. “Not so fast” I said. You want some of this here candy it’s gonna cost ya.” “How much?” they asked with feverish, covetous, eyes. “Bazooka Joe is ten cents a piece, everything else is a quarter.” Now this might seem like small potatoes but we made bank on those fireballs and I’ve never met a girl yet that could turn down a pixie stick. Plus, charging ten cents for a rock hard slab of bazooka Joe was highway robbery, we put a 500% markup on that junk. Our first day was a stunning success. Then we had an idea. If the kids in our class were willing to shell out money for bad candy, what if we increased the quality of our merchandise? That day we loaded up on what kids in 1978 really wanted; Bubble Yum, Bubbliscious and Hubba Bubba. Kid’s wanted those new gums but their parents were leery of its addictive softness and size. So we spent all our profit buying packs of gum and the crack cocaine of 70’s candy; Pop Rocks. The stuff sold like hotcakes. With the increased capital, we expanded our operation. Out on the playground we started selling to Sister Rita’s crew and to the underclassmen. We let the little kids know if they had the cash; the doors of the candy store were open. The stuff sold itself. We had stacks of loot.
With success brought problems. We started to give kids candy on credit but they had to pay interest. The vig on a piece of Hubba Bubba was 25% a day. We didn’t like doling out the rough stuff so we hired some muscle. We brought in our crazy classmate Johnny D and paid him in Pop Rocks. This kept him alert and aggressive. If a kid didn’t fork over what he owed, his pencils were likely to get broken, miss another payment and his Dukes of Hazard Lunchbox might somehow get a dent in it. Aside from dealing with deadbeats we also had interlopers. A little bird told us that two fourth graders were selling Tootsie Rolls and baseball cards. That just wouldn’t do. We let them know in no uncertain terms that their days selling candy were over. We let them keep their card business but in return they had to fork over a piece of the action. We now controlled the lucrative Tootsie Roll rackets. Within weeks of selling our first piece of gum we ran the 1st through 6th grade territory and were kings inside the hallowed halls of Saint Anthony’s.
But the best laid plans often go astray. At the zenith of our power it all came tumbling down. A fat kid with a sweet tooth had built up quite the debt so we took his Star Wars action figures hostage and sent him the head of C3PO to let him know we meant business. This kid loved his Star Wars more than he loved candy and he promised he would bring us the money. We had arranged to meet by the dumpsters outside for the ransom payment but when we got there instead of seeing the fat kid, there stood our Principal, Sister Jeanette. The little rat had squealed, we were busted.
She hauled us down to her office and sat Billy, Johnny D and myself down in front of her desk. She stared through us for a minute and very calmly said, “So, I hear you boys have a little candy business.” I looked her dead in the eye and lied like a politician, “I don’t know what you’re talking about Sister. That fat kid sells candy, not us.” She gave me a look of disgust and moved on to my friend Billy who quickly looked up to the ceiling. Billy was never good under pressure. I was afraid he would crack. “What have you been up to Billy?” She asked. He stumbled over his words, “Umm, ya know… uh, stuff, lot’s of uh…tutoring…tutoring kids.” It sounded legit to me. She shook her head from side to side and made a tsk, tsk noise that made my blood run cold. She then reached down and pulled open a draw; out came the two huge bags of candy we had left in our desks. She held them up in her tight, red fists, and sternly said, “Your little business ends here…TODAY.” We all nodded our heads. I began saying a Novena while I prepared for death. As she looked at us I noticed her sausage fingers creeping into my bag of candy. She pulled out a piece of grape Hubba Bubba and popped it into her mouth, as she chewed, I swear I saw a light bulb go off above that habit covered head of hers. She then made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. “Now listen here boys, you’re done selling candy. You got me? If you promise to stop selling we’ll leave it at that. No one else has to know. Capiche?” “Yes sister” we all mumbled in shame. “I thought so,” she said as she snapped her gum like a firecracker. “Now hit the bricks.”
As we got up to leave I thought I saw a smirk of admiration on her face. A week later, Saint Anthony’s opened its own candy store. We had been muscled out of the candy business by a mob of nuns. I was so disillusioned I vowed to never try my hand at business again. To this day I still can’t watch The Sound of Music.
Gerry McGuire took his love of history, trivia, comedy, literature, music and film and turned himself into a pop culture quoting, chat machine. He is like Cliff Claven from Cheers if Cliff Claven was stunningly handsome, awesomely funny and unbelievably humble. He fancies himself what the French would describe as a raconteur or what Americans call, a loud mouth. Gerry writes for Milford Living Magazine, sings in the Celtic rock band The Butcher Boys and is a stay at home dad.